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Stranger than Fiction: Hugs Banned in Schools
posted by: Cindy Omlin | October 09, 2012, 05:38 PM   

For years students used the popular health class slogan, "Hugs not drugs" with their friends and peers. However, recent bans on friendly hugs in New Jersey and North Carolina public schools are challenging this old adage and raising questions over appropriate displays of affection in schools.

At Chase Middle School in North Carolina, the controversy began when 8th grader, Parker Jackson, returned to school after having a seizure the previous day. The school's assistant principal abruptly stopped the shower of hugs from concerned students and faculty, announcing that all parties should tone down displays of affection. Jackson and his classmates responded to this mandate by orchestrating a protest to "hug as many people as you can."

The following day, Principal La' Rhonda Whiteside met with the eighth grade class, dictating they stop hugging. Whiteside stressed that students had "no right to hug" and called the display of affection "very inappropriate." Punishment for further hugging would be in-school suspension.

When asked for comment by a local news outlet, a Rutherford County School District employee told reporters that public displays of affection were not allowed. However, there is no mention of this in the school policy handbook. District Superintendent Dr. Janet Mason clarified that Chase Middle School has no written hugging ban, "but there is a line for appropriate touch in school and what's not."

While Chase Middle School is the most recent school to implement rules against hugging, they are certainly not the first school to experience controversy over appropriate touching. After having "some incidents of unsuitable, physical interactions between students," Principal Tyler Blackmore declared Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School in Cliffwood, New Jersey a "no hugging school."

Similarly, in 2010 West Sylvan Middle School, in Portland, Oregon, banned students and teachers from hugging, after the principal said the embrace had become a disruption and even a bullying mechanism. "I was observing students hugging other students and the other students didn't feel comfortable," said principal Allison Couch.

Last year, in Palm Bay, Florida, a middle-school student, Nick Martinez, was suspended in November for a brief hug he shared with a female student between classes. The principal saw the hug and brought the two students to the dean, who issued a one-day in-school suspension. "Honestly, I didn't know, because I didn't think hugging was a bad thing. I didn't know you could get suspended for it," Martinez told ABC affiliate WKMG-TV. "A lot of friends are hugging. I just happened to be the one caught doing it."

The increasing limitations on hugging raise the question of what are appropriate displays of affections – between both two students and between students and teachers. Evidence supports that an encouraging physical gesture can actually make a difference in behavior. In a recent study on touch, researchers examined several basketball teams, finding correlation between touch-bonded teams and wins, as well as between teammates and high performance.

It is difficult to ignore the correlation between touch and performance, as well as the benefit of touch on stress levels. However, it is also important to keep distractions from learning out of the classroom. Professional educators should be sure to follow and enforce policies on physical contact in their classrooms.

Is there a balance between supportive touches and distracting displays of affection? How do you handle touch in your classroom?

Comment below.

Posted by Alix at AAE.

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